Children express their concern over the arms race

''We can get rid of nuclear weapons and have peace and stuff. Because if you want something bad enough, and you work at it hard enough, you can do anything.''m

- 7-year-old boy

Most adults don't recognize how deeply children are concerned about the spiraling arms race and how much they want to talk about it.

Vivienne Verdon-Roe does. She has listened to them, listened by the hour to more than 60 California children, ages 8 to 18, as they spoke from their minds and from their hearts. What she heard composes the documentary film ''Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow: What the Children Can Tell Us,'' the first documentary on the arms race made from the point of view of children.

''After several months of working with the nuclear weapons freeze campaign, it began to bother me how the spectacle of a society preparing to blow itself up affected children, their view of the world now, and their vision of the future, '' says Ms. Verdon-Roe, a British-born educator and free-lance writer. After beginning her interviews as the basis of a magazine article, she and independent filmmaker Eric Thierman decided to collaborate, capturing the interviews on film instead.

She quickly discovered that children had plenty to say about the arms race and the threat of nuclear war. Lacking the specialist jargon adults sometimes use to distance themselves from these grim realities, the children she interviewed spoke with clarity, simplicity, and eloquence.

''I'm scared I won't grow up,'' was the comment Ms. Verdon-Roe heard most frequently. In addition to feeling frightened, these children said they felt betrayed by adults who have done little to secure peace. Fifteen-year-old Kirk said, ''There are old men with their fingers on the button, and they're playing with our lives, which we haven't had yet, while they've had full, long ones.''

These children believed the threat of nuclear extinction was robbing them not only of their futures, but of their childhoods as well. Sixteen-year-old Brad's comment was typical: ''Sometimes I feel really depressed. A lot of times I'm really convinced that I'm going to die in a nuclear war.''

Some of the children perceived adults as living only in the present, with little memory of the past and little regard for the future. Aya, 14, said: ''They see the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as far away and so distant that they don't know how possible it is today. I feel like everything that's left, all survivors, is living proof of how horrible nuclear war is. That's what really scares me, how people haven't learned from that.''

The children saw the arms race as a moral rather than political issue. The morality of dropping the bomb extended beyond a concern for their own safety to the survival of the planet as a whole. Mickey, 13, read from a letter he wrote to President Reagan: ''I think we're too greedy with the world we have. We always think of ourselves. I know you are probably proud of man's knowledge, but man's knowledge is destroying the earth and the earth doesn't just belong to man. If we want to destroy ourselves, we should do it without destroying nature. When I think about the way people treat the earth and the way animals treat the earth, I find a big difference.''

In spite of these comments and others like them, the overall message of the film is a positive one. All the children interviewed found that they overcame the feelings of powerlessness and depression when they joined with others to change the situation - to work toward halting the arms race. In doing so they found that there were adults who cared about their future and who needed their help in securing it. Amy, 14 , said, ''I just can't describe how it feels to be in the middle of a group of people who agree and are fighting for the same thing. It really is a sense of community.''

They found, too, that although individually they might be powerless, collectively they could make a difference. From Elizabeth, 14: ''If a million people who marched on June 12th in New York had said, 'I'm just one little person, I don't count,' nobody would have shown up at all.''

Most important, they found hope for the future. Said Anna, 17, ''I think it's going to work. There's more and more people, it's like a chain reaction. One person becomes interested and the other person says, 'Hey, I can do something too.' ''

'In Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow: What the Children Can Tell Us'' will premiere in California on March 1. Thereafter it will be available for rental (both 16-mm film and videocassette) for a nominal fee. Distribution is through the Resource Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 2324, Santa Cruz, Calif. 95063.

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